With the help of local water engineers, Haiti’s water utility (Centre Technique d’Exploitation – CTE) is steadily expanding its connections and customer base, connecting more and more people to clean water.
Reorganization of Water Operations in Port-Au-Prince
For more than three years after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, water engineer Etienne Beauchum was unable to find a steady job, even though more than two-thirds of the population of metropolitan Port-au-Prince had no connection to water services.
He finally got a contract job in May 2013 with the Port-au-Prince water utility (Centre Technique d’Exploitation – CTE) to lead a team to survey water pipes, search for clandestine connections, and go door-to-door to regularize water services and billing. “This work is rewarding because I am helping a local institution get stronger by not only getting more customers but also more resources,” Beauchum, 35, explained proudly.
Professionals like Beauchum are at the heart of an ambitious project backed by the IDB and the Spanish government to modernize CTE and establish water and sanitation service that is financially sustainable and reliable. The project is part of a multi-million dollar plan to expand access to potable water and sanitation services to 40 percent of the population in the capital as well as to other parts of the country.
Increasing water supply and sanitation coverage is vital to Haiti’s economic future, especially after the earthquake disrupted government efforts to reform a sector plagued by insufficient maintenance and a lack of qualified personnel and planning. Without quick action, Haiti is exposed to growing health risks and a large-scale ecological disaster because of growing pollution of aquifers in large cities.
The situation at CTE was daunting even before the earthquake. According to a 2007 survey, it had only 30,000 active clients with individual water connections in a city with an estimated 500,000 households. More thsn sixty percent of its treated water was lost due to irregular connections and damaged pipes, and only 42 percent of clients paid their bills.
Kilometers of pipes were damaged by the earthquake, disrupting water quality and distribution. To make matters worse, clients stopped paying their bills, forcing the operator to stop paying salaries for several months.
“Everything was a disaster. There was no organization, no good structure. People did a little bit of everything and our construction workers did whatever they wanted.” said Emmanuel Molière, a CTE official. “We realized that we could not go on expecting other people to do our work, it was time for us to take responsibility. The main goal is make CTE succeed and become a self-reliant public water operator.”
Through an international bidding process, a consortium—Aguas de Barcelona/Lyonnaise des Eaux/United Water—was hired in 2011 to help CTE improve operational efficiency, cut water and financial losses, and expand quality services. Under the innovative three-year contract, consultants work as advisors to local management rather than actually take charge of CTE’s operations. Their contracts not only provided a variety of specific deliverables but also offered monetary incentives based on achieving specific targets. The approach has empowered local management to implement the changes and given consultants some incentives to work toward achieving measurable goals.
As a result of the technical assistance, CTE implemented dramatic changes to its organizational structure and management, first by reducing its bloated workforce through early retirements and elimination of posts after employees left their jobs.
To attract and retain talent, CTE created a human resources department with qualified staff and transparent hiring processes. A merit-based system was put in place that set clear rules for compensation and promotion, which are now based on bi-annual performance evaluations. Managerial and technical training was expanded, providing staff with over 13,000 hours of training between 2011 and 2013 compared with less than 300 hours in 2009.
Moreover, a formal hiring process was established, with vacancies announced inside and outside the company, and with the involvement of the HR department in the interview process.
CTE also created a customer service department that launched a campaign—and hired professionals such as Beauchum to implement it—to regularize water connections. As a result, the number of paying customers increased significantly, and revenue jumped 35 percent between 2011 and 2013.
To improve water treatment, CTE increased the use of chlorine and reactivated its laboratory to measure water quality. Emergency generators were purchased to run water pumps and a maintenance plan was put in place to reduce reliance on the electricity network, which only provides energy a few hours a day.
Finally, the company created a department devoted to helping the poorest communities. Since 2010, the number of public water kiosks available in these neighborhoods has more than doubled and community committees have been set up to manage these kiosks and charge users to help make them sustainable.
A Work in Progress
For all the progress that has been achieved, much remains to be done before CTE is able to balance its books and sustainably expand water service. The operator still loses 30 percent of its treated water because of faulty pipes and tanks, and about 50 percent of the water consumed is not billed, mainly due to illegal connections. Additional infrastructure is needed to improve the distribution as well as the quality of the water supply, which still has a high level of biological contaminants despite better treatment.
Revenue only covers 60 percent of the operation costs and CTE still needs budgetary assistance from Haiti’s national water agency, DINEPA, to cover all other costs related to its operations. In an effort to balance its books by 2017, CTE is currently trying to win approval to simplify its water rates and adjust them for inflation, as they have been frozen for the past 10 years. Further improvements on CTE’s operational and financial performance will depend on the renewal of the technical assistance contract with the consortium in 2014.
As for Beauchum, his personal circumstances reflect the same mix of advances and setbacks of the very sector in which he works. He has a job, and the work he is doing is helping to put his employer in a better position to succeed. But his own home was destroyed in the earthquake, and Beachum, like many other Haitians, still lives in a temporary one-room shack—with no water connection.